Flu vaccine does protect, but may need a power-boost in seniors

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Here s another reason older adults should make sure to get vaccinated against the flu next flu season. Although the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies, and is certainly lower in older recipients, receiving the vaccine may reduce the risk of hospitalization due to complications from the flu, according to U.S. researchers from the CDC.

The study found that flu-related hospitalization risk was reduced by 71.4 percent among adults of all ages and by 76.8 percent among adults ages 50 and older. Given that one prior study found that the flu vaccine had an effectiveness rate of only 9 percent against one especially virulent strain in adults ages 65 and older, Dr. Keipp Talbot of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and lead author of the study, says that This study is reassuring ¦[it] showed that the flu vaccine can offer significant protection against serious illness resulting in hospitalization for adults of all ages.

And Dr. Mark Thompson, a CDC flu expert and co-author of the study adds that older adults should make sure to receive medical attention right away if they develop flu-like symptoms, whether or not they have received the vaccine, as there are antiviral medications that, if administered early in the course of the infection, can reduce its severity somewhat.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross added, Rather than being influenced against getting the vaccine because of its relatively low level of protection in the over-65 population, this should encourage them to be more enthusiastic, as its the only way to get any protection. There are now stronger doses of flu vaccine available for the older group, with four-fold increased amount of viral antigen to induce a more protective immune response, although this is not as widely known as it should be. Our public health officials should be emphasizing that option to seniors.

But ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan wonders whether the stronger dose for older adults will be available this coming flu season and if so, whether MDs who give the flu shot will have both versions on hand, as they did not this past year.